September 21, 2016 – U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez made an impassioned appeal to Georgetown students last night to help ensure an inclusive and prosperous economy and society for all Americans.

Secretary Perez“I went to public policy school because I wanted to change the world, and you have that opportunity,” says Perez, who gave the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Whittington Lecture.

Echoing the message of Martin Luther King Jr. throughout his remarks, the secretary framed public policy as a series of choices between building shared prosperity and simply accepting the status quo.

Stay in the Ballgame

“Life is a participatory sport,” he said. “We need you to get and stay in the ballgame, and to apply your values and actions day-in and day-out.”

The Whittington Lecture was established in memory of Leslie A. Whittington, associate dean and professor of public policy at Georgetown who, along with her husband and two children, died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The forum honors her commitment to investigating pressing public policy issues by providing a forum for thoughtful dialogue with policy and political leaders.

Previous Whittington Lecturers have included Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts); Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin); Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu; and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others.

Forward-Leaning Employers

Secretary Perez and Dean MontgomeryPerez, who later participated in a question-and-answer session moderated by McCourt School Dean Edward Montgomery, said he has spent much of his tenure speaking directly with and learning from working Americans to create successful policies and programs that involve public-private collaboration.

As an example, he pointed to the department’s Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release (LEAP) initiative, which helps inmates develop workplace skills in prison, a program he said reduces recidivism, lowers crime and helps grow businesses.  

“Forward-leaning employers get that,” he said of LEAP, adding that, “many of the folks behind bars have tremendous talent. When you give them a chance, they take advantage of it.”

Perez also touted the successes of the Affordable Care Act while advocating for Medicaid expansion in states that have yet to accept it.

“It’s not only the smart thing to do on the human and healthcare front, but it’s the smart thing to do on the economic front,” he said.

Working Together

The longest-serving Obama administration cabinet member outlined numerous principles he has sought to implement that focus on innovation and inclusiveness.

Those principles include the idea that no one who works full time should have to live in poverty and that successful nations and businesses should embrace diversity.

“We pride ourselves on our rugged individualism,” he said. “But I think we are indeed strongest when we work together, sacrifice together and grow together.”

Secretary Perez in Riggs Library